Argentine president slams incoming administration in final address to country

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Tens of thousands of supporters jammed Argentina's most famous square Wednesday night to say goodbye to President Cristina Fernandez, who lauded her government's achievements while blasting the incoming administration in the same withering tones she aimed at opponents throughout her eight years in office.

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As blue and white Argentine flags waved and people cheered on a balmy night, Fernandez gave a speech that was both a recap of her years in power and a clear sign that she does not plan to make things easy for President-elect Mauricio Macri, who will be inaugurated Thursday.

Fernandez addressed the crowd on Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires amid widespread criticism for her decision not to attend Macri's inauguration.

The two spent much of the last 10 days bickering over where the presidential baton and sash would be handed over. Macri wanted to receive them at the Casa Rosada presidential offices from Fernandez, while she insisted the handover happen in Congress. Many Argentines viewed the argument as a national embarrassment.

Without mentioning him by name, Fernandez framed the tiff as Macri's fault. She also criticized a Wednesday federal court ruling in a case brought by Macri that determined her presidency ended at midnight, saying it would leave Argentina without a president until Macri's swearing-in at midday Thursday.

"I can't talk much because after midnight I'll turn into a pumpkin," she joked.

Fernandez talked about "an agenda from the outside being imposed on the region," apparently referring to the United States and others she sees as enemies of Argentina. During her two terms in power, Fernandez frequently accused other countries of meddling in this South American nation's affairs, though rarely provided details.

For 12 years, Fernandez, and before her, late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, dominated the political landscape. The couple rewrote the country's social contract, spending heavily on social programs for the poor while passing liberalizing laws, such as legalizing gay marriage in 2010.

They also aligned Argentina with socialist leaders like the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, who attended Fernandez's farewell speech.

"She made me proud to be Argentine for the first time in my life," said onlooker Pablo Vega. "She defended the interests of the country more than anybody."

Macri, who ran on free-market ideas, beat Fernandez's chosen successor by 3 percentage points in a runoff election last month. The close result underscored the deep polarization in Argentina, and Fernandez has made clear she will continue to be heard, albeit from the sidelines of power.

The 62-year-old, who was barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, leaves office with approval ratings around 40 per cent, and some have speculated she might try to run again in 2019.

However, just as many Argentines love her, many also loathe her, and the fight over the presidential transition brought out the frustration of detractors.

By Wednesday afternoon, her decision not to attend the inauguration had spawned a trending Twitter hashtag: #CFKVerguenzaMundial, or Fernandez's world shame.


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